A popular conclusion to Chinese tales is the main character's transformation into a new form after death, whether it be a spirit, mythical creature, or another living creature. I wanted to depict a journey through life, from beginning to end to new beginnings, using long Chinese dance ribbons to capture the different stages of life, death, and rebirth in new forms.
I was first inspired by the cyclical nature of this song (unknown artist and name, unfortunately), which I was exposed to in Stanford Chinese Dance, a student group that I joined this year. Although we are performing a fan dance to it, I saw many connections between this song and elements of the ribbon dance we learned before the fan dance. The repeating structure and use of climaxes in the song can be translated to the circular, undulating motions of the ribbons. (In fact, I cut out 1 min from the original recording to avoid gratuitous repetition.) In the video, there are certain motions that are repeated, and the streaming ribbon the opens the video also ends it (although I excerpted different clips).
The first part of the video only features ribbons, with no obviously visible human control. It begins with one ribbon coiled on the ground, gaining its life force. It soon "matures" (spinning action) and exuberantly expresses its youthful energy, moving dynamically but within certain constraints. During the first chorus (perhaps better described as the B section), the ribbon meets a second ribbon, a life partner. They dance together for some time. Then the action falls, and as they near the end of their lives, the second ribbon leaves the first ribbon, and the first ribbon, quite forlorn, dies. During the dramatically slowed down section at 1:51, I am actually tracing out the Chinese characters xin (heart, mind, center) and ren (human, person, everybody) to represent the continuity of their spirits. Ren is traced twice, once for each ribbon life. Suddenly the music picks up again, and the ribbons return, about to be reborn (they are tied in flower knots), but this time you can see that I am holding them. Now I dance with the ribbons, giving them new life.
Original screenplay: screenplay.txt
My ambitions ran quite high initially—I wanted to "draw" with the ribbons, so I planned to shoot a stop-motion animation. After our professor, Jarek, pointed out that this would probably take up more time than I had, I decided to animate the video in Flash, with the reincarnation represented in video-recorded form: a transcendence into reality. But I found out quickly that to accurately depict the aerodynamics of ribbon motion in Flash would exceed both the time that I had available and my skill level. Thus, I decided to shoot the entire video with a digital video recorder.
Overall, I am quite happy with the results. Since I am showing the real ribbons, you can really see the aerodynamicism of the ribbons, and the metaphor is much clearer and more powerful. The HD camcorder I borrowed from Meyer Library had terrible battery life (about 30 minutes), so I ended up switching to my ordinary digital camera for many of the scenes. This ended up having the interesting effect of presenting varying perspectives, almost like having alternate realities where the ribbon takes "risks" and explores different pathways. For example, when the ribbon flies into the air at 0:53, the video switches aspect ratios, and the contrast is like entering a new realm—and indeed it is, for that is where our original ribbon meets its partner.
Special thanks to Sheta Chatterjee and Melissa Johnson for much of the camera work. I filmed some scenes by myself with a tripod on the grassy field by Ricker Dining, and some scenes with them in the same location and behind the Knoll, on the basketball court at 680 Lomita.